In front of about 150 supporters at the Coker Tire Museum, Republican congressional candidate Robin Smith called her keynote speaker "the new Newt Gingrich," referencing his quick legislative rise.
The speaker, two-term U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, serves as his party's deputy whip in Congress and said Mrs. Smith could reach similar levels of power someday.
"She's the type that can hit the ground running and lead from the very first day," he said.
Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said the congressman's impressions are wrong.
"It's an interesting sign of desperation that she's importing far-right-wing ideologues to boost her credentials in the right-wing community," he said.
Sunday's event, which showcased a speech by the congressman, cost $500 per person and afforded each contributor hors d'oeuvres and beverages.
Wearing a tan suit to accompany a shock of gray hair, Rep. McCarthy said he personally contacted Mrs. Smith after he found out she was considering the race, which packs 10 other GOP candidates, four Democrats and six independents.
After his remarks, which were closed to press, Rep. McCarthy said Mrs. Smith was "anti-establishment" despite her two years as chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.
"Her leadership in shaking up the Tennessee State House -- that's what we need in Washington," the congressman said.